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Sen and Sensibility

/ 12:33 AM January 21, 2017
Sushmita Sen

Sushmita Sen, who was not among the frontrunners, won the pageant in 1994.

She was the underdog, the dark horse, who eventually upstaged the early favorites and won the right to rule the universe—at least, for one momentous year.

Days before the pageant, Miss Universe Sushmita Sen, originally from Hyderabad, India, was not among the frontrunners when the pageant was held in Manila in 1994.

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Her photos seldom appeared in the papers, and she was hardly mobbed by reporters—unlike Colombia’s Carolina Gomez and Venezuela’s Minorka Mercado, who eventually placed first and second runners-up, respectively.

Still, among those who covered the annual parade of pulchritude, Miss India was regarded as a curiosity.

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During rehearsals at the Philippine International Convention Center (where the contest was held), she frequently sashayed across the hall with uncommon grace—as if she had just emerged from an epic production of “Ramayana.”

Even blasé journalists seemed momentarily charmed when they heard the rumor regarding Miss India’s answer to a juror’s preliminary interview question.

Her inquisitor supposedly asked: “If you were a song, what would you be?”

Sen reportedly quipped, without batting an eyelash: “I’d be the song of the mountains.”

The Himalayas, perhaps?

According to reports, her answers at the prepageant Q&A “reflected the richness and depth of India’s culture… There are echoes of Tagore and Gandhi in her profound, spiritual answers.” (She scored 9.49 in the preliminary interviews.)

Of course, she later won over not just the judges, but the entire universe, with her answer to the final, make-or-break question: “What is the essence of a woman?”

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Sen’s response hit the bulls’-eye: “Being a woman by itself… the very fact that you are a woman is a gift of God which all of us must appreciate. The origin of a child is a mother, and is a woman. And a woman can show a man what sharing, caring and loving is all about. That is the essence of a woman.”

sushmita sen

Miss Universe (center), with Colombia’s Carolina Gomez (left) and Venezuela’s Minorka Mercado

A certain Filipino politician, who was obviously rooting for an also-ran, ranted that Miss Universe was not an IQ competition, but a beauty tilt and questioned Sen’s victory.

Alas, he was a lone dissenting voice that time.

Almost everyone in the press corps that day was smitten when the newly crowned Miss Universe arrived at the hall for the first of many interviews she would subsequently grant during her yearlong reign.

Quite surprisingly, she seemed like a normal, giggly teenager back then. (At age 19, she was the first Miss India to top the world-renowned beauty competition.)

sushmita sen

Sen with daughters, Renee (left) and Alisah —@thesushmitasen

There was nothing studied or pretentious about her. Moreover, she answered each question with candor and confidence.

Asked what the first word that entered her mind was when she heard her name announced as Miss Universe, Sen quipped, swiftly and sincerely: “God.”

Postscript: Sen eventually joined Bollywood, making a slew of movies and scoring a few acting citations—mainly, best supporting actress trophies from the Filmfare and Star Screen Awards in 2000 (for “Biwi No. 1”) and from the Zee Cine Awards in 2003 (for “Filhaal…”).

In 2000, she hogged headlines in India, when she adopted a baby girl whom she named Renee. Not a few eyebrows were raised because single, 25-year-old women were not usually awarded custody of orphans in India.

Sen, however, prevailed and, in 2010, she adopted another baby girl and named her Alisah.

In 2013, she won the Mother Teresa Award for Social Justice and, just last year, was given the Eternal Beauty and Actress of the Decade Award by the 7th Indian Affairs India Leadership Conclave.

According to the pink magazine Indian Affairs, Sen is “known as an actress who speaks her mind and is not afraid to live life on her own terms.”

Satya Brahma, chair and editor in chief of Indian Affairs, remarked: “Sushmita has made us proud as India’s peace ambassador… lending her voice to different issues. She also made history for adopting two baby girls… something rare in today’s society. She is the ultimate woman.”

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TAGS: India, Miss Universe, Miss Universe 1994, Sushmita Sen
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